Ripple effect of the quake in Japan

Ripple effect of the quake in Japan

His popularity had sunk to a low of 20 per cent and he seemed to be on the verge of stepping down. He was unsure even of getting the 2011 budget passed in a divided Diet, and he had lost his foreign minister Seiji Maehara only a few days before the quake. The earthquake dramatically changed the situation, however, and Kan can now hope to survive for several months. If the opposition LDP were not to cooperate with Kan during such a national crisis, Japanese citizens are likely to punish the party in the next elections.

Post-quake reconstruction efforts require a strong and unified political leadership and Kan does not seem to be failing in this arduous job. Although an opinion poll conducted by Kyodo news agency brought out that 58 per cent of Japanese did not approve of Kan’s handling of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima Daiichi power plant, 58 per cent did approve of his overall disaster-victim support in northeast Japan. Kan has made just three public speeches since the disaster; his chief cabinet secretary Edano Yukio has emerged as the government’s public face in this situation.

Priorities

Indeed, few people are looking towards Kan for inspiration and they instead want him to address the myriad problems facing the country away from media glare. Managing relief materials and reconstruction activities, besides resolving the nuclear crisis, are priorities for Kan, rather than making media appearances and speeches. Such an approach will help gain public acceptability and boost his political future.

Unfortunately, the opposition LDP leader Tanigaki Sadakazu turned down Kan’s invitation to join the cabinet as the minister in charge of reconstruction and to be part of a grand coalition. The people may not forget or forgive the LDP for such partisanship. The LDP seems to be unduly paranoid about being a part of the government, which could well mean sharing the blame if the situation at Fukushima were to deteriorate.

The government plans to allocate 200 billion yen in reserves from the 2010 budget and 1.6 trillion yen from the budget for the fiscal 2011-12 starting April 1. It needs much more and the DPJ is poised to rewrite most of the party’s campaign promises, as disaster-related expenses are expected to balloon. Most disturbing is the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, where farmers are being forced to destroy vegetables and milk because of radiation contamination for which both the government and TEPCO will have to shoulder the compensation costs. In reviewing the expenditure, the government is likely to revisit its key policies such as monthly child allowances, toll-free highways, free high school tuition and income compensation to farmers, besides pay cuts for civil servants and lawmakers.

The government plans a supplementary budget to rebuild the disaster-hit Tohoku region in two stages: the first, an extra budget from April to May, which will provide funds immediately for clearing the rubble and building makeshift housing; and the second, the full budget. While the opposition may not raise hurdles over the supplementary budget, it may not support the actual budget and bills related to it.

Even though Kan has survived for the present, some of his decisions have come under criticism. Once the uneasy political truce inspired by the disaster ends, he could face renewed pressure from the opposition to resign. One day after the quake, Kan visited Fukushima by helicopter to view the crippled nuclear complex and criticised the facility’s operator for mishandling the crisis. Both these actions came under fire. Kan does not deserve criticism at this critical time and needs support.

(The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)

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